Modern Horizons 2 is just around the corner, and everyone is excited to see all of the powerful new cards being introduced to Modern — one of Magic’s most beloved formats. While I’ve seen a lot of hype around the flashy new cards like Grief, Void Mirror, and Unmarked Grave, there hasn’t been much talk about the handful of cards previewed that would revitalize a once-popular Modern archetype: Hardened Scales.
Of all the Modern decks hit by last year’s Mox Opal ban, Hardened Scales took the hardest blow. The deck all but vanished from existence, but the format has changed enough in the last year that it could make a comeback. Modern has slowed down quite a bit, and Hardened Scales can still win quickly while evading spot removal. Let’s take a look at what Modern Horizons 2 has in store for the deck:
When Zabaz was previewed this week, I immediately thought of Hardened Scales. If we ignore the activated abilities, this card is a strictly better Arcbound Worker, though the legendary subtype may limit how many copies you want to play. I also don’t think you want to replace Arcbound Worker with Zabaz — rather, you should play them both to maximize your turn one plays.
There are so many cards in Hardened Scales that put additional +1/+1 counters on creatures, and another one is always welcome. Zabaz is one of the best cards with this effect because its modular ability allows it to come into play with +1/+1 counters itself; that’s more counters you can put on Inkmoth Nexus, Walking Ballista, or any other unblocked attacker. And unlike similar creatures like Winding Constrictor, Zabaz is an artifact, so you can sacrifice it to Arcbound Ravager. I don’t foresee Zabaz’s activated abilities being relevant without a Mox Opal unbanning — there’s no real benefit to adding red or white to your Hardened Scales deck — but it’s still useful enough otherwise.
While Hardened Scales decks have traditionally been mono-green, some lists have added black for Winding Constrictor. If you want to take Hardened Scales in this direction, then Ravenous Squirrel is the perfect card for you. It’s another threat that gets counters when you sacrifice a creature, and it only costs one mana!
Hardened Scales can certainly benefit from having additional sacrifice outlets. Historically, Arcbound Ravager has been the deck’s main win condition because it serves as a free sacrifice outlet. And while the activated ability of Ravenous Squirrel costs three mana, it can still be important against spot removal and to gain card advantage. Hardened Scales doesn’t have a way to draw additional cards or come back from behind, so Ravenous Squirrel can provide these lists with some much-needed reach.
Urza’s Saga is the first Saga land in Magic! I’m very excited for this card, and it feels like it fits especially well in this deck. If you play it on turn one, you can tap it for one colorless mana and cast most of your creatures. Chapter two is exciting because you can build up your artifact count to create a large Construct. This specifically works well with Hangarback Walker’s Thopter tokens, Animation Module, and the creature lands that turn into artifacts when activated.
But chapter three might be the best part: you get to tutor for any artifact you need. You could grab Animation Module or The Ozolith if you’re playing against a control deck. In sideboard games, you can grab any hate card you might need, like Grafdigger’s Cage or Pithing Needle. The versatility of Urza’s Saga makes it a slam dunk in this deck, and in Modern as a whole.
While the deck doesn’t fundamentally change with Modern Horizons 2, these much-needed updates could easily push Hardened Scales back to the top of the Modern metagame. Here are some updated decklists you can try:
If you’re new to Hardened Scales as an archetype, it may be daunting at first. It’s sometimes difficult to figure out exactly how many counters one of your permanents has, and you may run out of dice quickly. Take your time, and keep these tips in mind if you’re piloting this deck for the first time:
- You ideally want a turn one play with this deck, whether that’s Hardened Scales, The Ozolith, Zabaz, or even Arcbound Worker. You’re trying to win as quickly as possible, so having early plays is important.
- Your quickest kills start with an Inkmoth Nexus and end with sacrificing your artifacts to Arcbound Ravager and putting the counters on Nexus.
- Arcbound Ravager is one of your most important cards because it’s a free sacrifice outlet. If your opponent tries to use spot removal on your artifacts, it’s usually best to sacrifice them to Ravager.
- The Ozolith is another relatively new addition to this deck that helps you continue to play the game after a devastating board wipe. You can end up transferring all of those +1/+1 counters to an Inkmoth or Blinkmoth Nexus and continue to chip away at your opponent’s life total.
- Hangarback Walker, Arcbound Ravager, and Walking Ballista is another combination that can present lethal damage. If you have enough counters on Hangarback Walker, you can sacrifice it to Arcbound Ravager, then sacrifice all of the Thopters you get when Hangarback Walker dies. After that, you can sacrifice Arcbound Ravager to itself and move the counters to the Walking Ballista if you have lethal damage.
- Don’t go for lethal damage if you don’t have a way to protect your creature from a removal spell. Your opponent might try to Path to Exile your Inkmoth Nexus when you put a lethal amount of +1/+1 counters on it with Arcbound Ravager.
- Modular doesn’t work if your opponent has an effect like Rest in Peace in play. This is why other cards like The Ozolith or Animation Module can be just as important as the other cards in the deck.
- Keep track of how many additional +1/+1 counters your creatures and permanents get each time one is added. This will save you time and mental energy during a match!
While these new cards aren’t novel or groundbreaking, they do pave the way for an existing Modern archetype to work its way back into the meta. Additionally, there are still a TON of preview cards left to discover, and there may be even more cards on the horizon for Hardened Scales! Only time will tell, and I’m excited to see what new and old Modern archetypes crop up in the format after the set is released.
Ally Warfield is a member of the Rivals League, a full-time streamer, and a Splinter Twin apologist. Her focus is in Historic and Standard, but she also loves to dabble in Vintage and Limited formats as well.